When some performers would rather stay in their buses than their dressing rooms, it’s time for some upgrades, and on Thursday, the Bell Auditorium was opened to show some of the recent improvements to the 77-year-old facility.
“A lot of the Bell hasn’t been touched since the late 80s,” said Chris Bird, general manager for Spectra, which operates the Bell. Funds for renovations came through Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money distributed in 2016. “Over time, there’s a lot of wear and tear especially when you have a lot of events.”
New carpeting has been installed in hallways of the upper and lower levels, and carpeting has been removed from the stairs with a skid proof polymer added.
Major improvements in the arena itself include the addition of permanent sound and lighting equipment. Bird said this will be attractive to promoters because sound and lighting won’t have to be set up and taken down for each show.
Also, in the main arena is the addition of a large curtain, which can cut off the theater and change the capacity of the house for different shows. At full capacity, the Bell seats 2,800 people, but the curtain can change the seating to 1,600 or 2,000.
Although they haven’t been installed yet, new chairs are on the way for floor seating.
“They’re black, chic and beautiful,” he said.
The backstage and dressing room area also has improvements to get those artists out of their buses and into the theater. There’s new carpeting and lighting there as well.
SPLOST allowed for about $6 million to go to the coliseum authority in 2016 and 2017. Bird said they’ve received about $1.5 million so far and expect the other $4.5 million in 2018. There are other projects on the books for improvements at the Bell such as adding a new chiller unit costing about $250,000 and improving the air circulation in the hallways.
“The current chiller is about 30 years old,” he said.
He said they’d also like to add a higher end concessions area which might require knocking out some walls and adding vents to the outside of the building.
Also at the open house, management took the opportunity to highlight some of the upcoming shows . The fall months are getting filled with acts including Kevin Hart, who has sold out one show already and added a second in October, Mary J. Blige in September, Kansas in October and Chicago in November.
Tickets for Chicago go on sale Friday , and Bird anticipates that show will sell out quickly. The Broadway at the Bell Series is popular with a lineup including The Wizard of Oz and Mannheim Steamroller in November, Dirty Dancing in January, The Illusionists in February and Rent in June.